Race, Ethnicity and Nationality: Define Kamala Harris by What She Is Instead of What She Isn’t
Kamala Harris is the first female vice presidential candidate of African and Asian ancestry. Her biological makeup has become a topic of discussion because she is not a white man. Rather than point out how even engaging in this very topic heightens white supremacy, I decided to attack this head on as it’s bigger than the election. Let’s define the terms first.
African Americans (also referred to as Black Americans or Afro-Americans) are an ethnic group of Americans with total or partial ancestry from any of the black racial groups of Africa. The term African American generally denotes descendants of enslaved black people who are from the United States.
The US racial or ethnic classification “black” refers to people with all possible kinds of skin pigmentation, from the darkest through to the very lightest skin colors, including albinos, if they are believed by others to have African ancestry (in any discernible percentage).
Asian Americans are Americans of Asian ancestry. The term refers to a panethnic group that includes diverse populations, which have origins in East Asia, South Asian, and Southeast Asian as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Kamala Harris was born in America to a Jamaican father and Indian mother. She is an American citizen.
Jamaica was a destination for African slaves. Slaves went across the middle passage to Jamaica; therefore, from her father’s side, she is the descendant of enslaved black people.
So, Kamala Harris is the descendant of enslaved black people, and from the United States. This makes her…African-American and also black as once again black Jamaicans originated from Africa.
She is also the descendant of Asian ancestry from her mother side. This makes her Asian American as well for India is in Asia.
This confusion is mainly due to our lack of understanding on the difference between race, ethnicity and nationality.
The best definition I’ve seen comes from the University of Missouri at Saint Louis:
A human race is defined as a group of people with certain common inherited features that distinguish them from other groups of people. All people of whatever race are currently classified by the anthropologist or biologist as belonging to the one species, Homo sapiens. This is another way of saying that the differences between human races are not great, even though they may appear so, i.e. black vs white skin. All races of mankind in the world can interbreed because they have so much in common. All races share 99.99+% of the same genetic materials which means that division of race is largely subjective, and that the original 3-5 races were also probably just subjective descriptions as well.
The four major races are:
Ethnicity is defined as a category of people who identify with each other, usually on the basis of presumed similarities such as a common language, ancestry, history, society, culture, nation, religion, race or social treatment within their residing area. Ethnicity is often used synonymously with the term nation, particularly in cases of ethnic nationalism, and is separate from, but related to the concept of races.
While similar, “race” is usually associated with biology and linked with physical characteristics such as skin color or hair texture. “Ethnicity” is linked with cultural expression and identification.
The US is a multi-racial and multi-ethnic country. The state officially categorizes its population into six groups:
- African American
- Native American/Alaskan Native
- Pacific Islander
- Native Hawaiian
From those groups, Americans identity with ethnic groups that are even more specific. More Americans specify as German than any other ethnicity.
Your nationality is simply the country you come from. This transcends race and ethnicity. It’s simply about the political state of which you are a citizen.
Finally, let’s remember the African diaspora consists of the worldwide collection of communities descended from native sub-Saharan Africans or people from sub-Saharan Africa, predominantly in the Americas. This includes approximately 46 million Americans and 3 million Jamaicans.
Kamala Harris is black, African-American and Asian-American. If I have my way, she will be President soon enough. In understanding the differences between race, ethnicity, and nationality, we can better understand the forms bigotry takes and how to better fight against them.